Client’s story: How we adapted the Design Sprint process to create meaningful EdTech

In our previous articles, we introduced you to the Design Sprint concept and explained all of the phases of this process. Today, we would like to share with you something unique – how the Design Sprint process at Setapp looks like from our client’s perspective. Milena Piasecka, EdTech Product Manager at Learn Teach Explore, describes how important the Design Sprint was to create their great EdTech app – Shapes 3D Geometry. 

This article was originally posted on medium.com by Milena Piasecka

 

When the objective is to create meaningful Educational Technology, it takes two to tango: Educators and technology experts. EdTech products have the power to support teachers in explaining complex issues and shaping students’ minds  - providing that they use the right technology and good teaching methods to solve real educational problems.

Shapes 3D Geometry is a series of applications for K-12 classrooms that:

  1. Inspire students to investigate and understand solids on their own and
  2. Help teachers explain abstract 3D geometric problems by creating exciting lessons.

Our main goal is to create ‘AHA’ moments that make math lessons meaningful and engaging. With Shapes, students develop important skills like critical thinking and creativity while exploring 3D geometric problems. We also help teachers create the ‘WOW’ effect when students discover solids using 3D visualization and Augmented Reality.

Shapes 3D Geometry apps help students:

Challenges

Co-creation with teachers

The main goal of the sprint was to design a solution that helps students understand abstract 3D geometric problems. The solution could be an app or a series of apps used by students in K12 classrooms, or at home. We had already gained positive feedback from teachers using our first app called Shapes 3D Geometry Learning. It does a pretty good job when it comes to teaching elementary concepts such as nets and properties of 3D shapes. Based on the feedback from teachers and our own passion for math, we then wanted to create a tool that would support the understanding of spatial geometry from the very first moments it is introduced at school until EdTech is no longer needed to tackle abstract geometric problems.

The main challenge, however, was to fully engage teachers in the co-creation process, meaning that the teachers would not only have to explain the problems students have with 3D geometry, but also to design a solution with a team of technology experts and product designers, as well as giving meaningful feedback on the early prototypes. As the main goal was to design a solution for a real problem that exists in math classrooms, having a teacher on board was essential.

We didn’t have a teacher expert in our main design team, so we invited Olimpia Dębicka who we later called our “combo” educator, as she teaches maths, physics, and computer science at elementary and middle schools. She also gives private tuition for high school math students. Therefore we knew that, if there were any misconceptions in the understanding of 3D geometry ,  Olimpia would know this and would be able to tackle it in the most creative and multidisciplinary way. She was our math mentor during the design sprint.

Apart from Olimpia, the design sprint team also included:

  • Ten more math teachers from Elementary, Middle and High schools that provided crucial input to the sprint and its outcome.
  • The whole Learn | Teach | Explore team: Marcin (Marketing), Ann (Administration), Mike (Technology R&D) and myself (Product Management).
  • Two experts from Setapp - our technology partner: Janusz (Development) and Rafał (Design)

The composition of the sprint team was intended to focus the whole process on the right problem to solve. Meaningful involvement of teachers is the most difficult part of both a design sprint and the co-creation process needed to develop great EdTech products.

Organization and adapting the sprint process

Another challenge was having everybody in the same place for five days in a row. I wanted to follow the process of the classic Design Sprint by GV. It turned out, however, to be impossible as teachers are very busy people (especially at the end of a semester). Therefore we worked only managed come together in the same place for the first three days, to keep the design process short and effective.

design sprint
A general overview of Design Sprint Process. Picture source: https://www.charitydigitalnews.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Google-Sprint.jpg

 

For the same reason, we decided to keep the prototyping in-house. We have the right competencies and technology to develop quick solutions for educational problems, so it proved to be the most efficient way.

I had to carry out almost all the interviews with the teachers either before or after the sprint, as it was impossible to gather all the teachers in the same place on the same day. However, It didn’t influence the total time spent on sprint design (in hours) and the results from the interviews very much followed the traditional process. It was the only way to go.

The Sprint phases

Day 1

Day one was all about the interviews with teachers and choosing the right problem to solve.

We knew from many earlier discussions with math teachers that students struggle with different abstract issues in 3D Geometry. I wanted to approach these problems with a better understanding of:

  • The difficulties that students have when learning 3D geometry and
  • teachers’ difficulties when explaining 3D geometry in a classroom.

As it was impossible to schedule all the interviews with teachers for the same day (teachers have very tight timetables), I started with my own investigation and scheduled meetings with the math teachers that I recorded for the benefit of the design sprint team.

We started day 1 with the statement of the main problem area and goal of the sprint. Then we analyzed the interviews. After each one, we discussed what we had discovered. We also had an online meeting with a math teacher so that the whole team could watch and ask questions.

Then we summarized all we had learned from the math teachers by listing and grouping all the major problems with learning & teaching spatial geometry in K12 classrooms. In the end, it was obvious that the main problem was limited spatial reasoning and the inability to draw 3D shapes in 2D (on paper or board). It poses difficulties in understanding many geometric tasks and the nature of solids.

notes

Day 2

The second day was to be the most crucial day of the whole sprint when we were supposed to state the main target of the sprint.

We reviewed the current approach to teaching 3D geometry in schools: the chronology, methods, and tools for subsequent lessons. Olimpia guided us through the challenges of the 3D geometry curriculum from K1 to K12.

notes2

We researched and grouped the major challenges of 3D geometry education in schools. Then we summarised our observations by stating the “How might we…” questions. Among them were a few candidates to become the single and most relevant sprint challenge, but unfortunately, we failed to choose one that day (we were just too tired and we ran out of time). This remained along with the big task which we agreed to approach with fresh minds the next day.

Day 3

The main goal of the day was to choose the sprint target and design the solution that would answer the big “How might we…” question in the most effective way.

We knew that whatever we created that day - it had to be game-changing and meaningful, but at the same time intuitive and easy to use in a classroom. Everybody needed to stay focused and open-minded. That’s why Olimpia organized creative geometry activities that required us to build and explore 3D shapes.

Everybody had some time to rethink the “How might we…” questions stated the previous day. We approached them with new energy and agreed on the one big challenge to work on: “How might we help students understand and explore 3D shapes by drawing the important elements like diagonals or cross-sections inside them?”.

Then we researched the risks and opportunities to be met when designing solutions in terms of competition, classroom & technology limitations, pedagogy models, etc. This served as an inspiration for the creative phase in which each of the team members sketched their rough ideas.

We used different techniques like ‘Crazy 8s’ or 3D modeling with different materials and tools brought by Olimpia - our ‘combo’ math teacher - just to exercise our brain cells and become even more aware of the challenges students meet in math classrooms.

designsprint2

It was the most creative day of the sprint. Together we sketched dozens of possible solutions turning them from ideas to the complete inspired design we all agreed should be turned into a prototype. We chose the best idea for prototyping. This day was a success.

Day 4

Now we needed a prototype to validate our design. Mike, our CTO, prepared the prototype according to the storyboard we had sketched the previous day and his own experience with Shapes 3D Geometry Learning our first app from the Shapes series. He was able to make a fully interactive prototype based on the first Shapes app that was made with Unity. The ability to use the same models of 3D Shapes gave us an advantage in the prototyping and validation phase, where teachers were able to use it in a way that was very similar to the target user experience. Mike’s ability to quickly adjust the prototype helped us to iterate quickly when the teachers gave their feedback on its basic features: drawing lines, 2D figures and cross-sections in various solids.

Day 5–8

We wanted to confront the designed solution with the needs of teachers to create real value for math classrooms. The prototype was too rough to be used with students at school, so we relied mostly on the opinions of the math teachers, who were our experts in this co-creation process. We also validated the prototype with a few youngsters from the 5th and 8th grades during private lessons with the tutor - Olimpia, our teacher-mentor. We wondered: will the prototype of the new Shapes app solve their problems?

The interviews were carried out during the following few days, and recorded in the same way as before starting the sprint. Once again, the teachers’ timetables made it impossible to meet everybody on the same day.

The teachers were surprised about how much we had achieved within just four days. The prototype might not have been as ‘beautiful’ as they would expect the final app to be (based on the high-level design of Shapes 3D Geometry Learning which some of them knew) but the interactions, and the opportunities it provided in terms of drawing and exploring 3D Shapes, were the answer to the problem of limited spatial reasoning and the inability to draw 3D shapes in 2D. They pointed out what they felt was still missing and what was important to meet the needs of the students in terms of both math methodology and pedagogical strategies.

The interviews with the math teachers proved that we had chosen the right problem to solve and we had chosen the right direction when searching for a solution. Now, we need to work on the scope of the product and the intended use within the classroom. The interviews with the children reassured us that we still had a long way ahead of us in terms of product design.

Outcomes

The most tangible outcome was a prototype which we used to get meaningful feedback from teachers and as functional guidelines for the later design of the app. It helped us also to iterate different design ideas before starting the development phase, which is very cost-effective. With only a few iterations and a low budget, we designed a prototype with the main functionality of Shapes 3D Geometry Drawing.

The main intangible outcome was that we learned how to work with the teachers: both inside and outside the classroom. Now we know how to create a dialogue with the true professionals of education; he teachers and schools who know the very challenges of the existing practices.

For the next 2 months, we worked diligently and alongside teachers with the aim of releasing a Minimum Viable Product that we could test with students at elementary and middle schools. The results were amazing and pretty much the same as teachers expected in the co-creation process. Now, after 9 months of continuous improvement and countless iterations, we can say that the design sprint gave us the solid foundations for the core features of Shapes 3D Geometry Drawing and the right direction to follow when it comes to the needs of our target groups. And , most of all , the  design sprint taught us how to co-design with teachers and students to create relevant and engaging digital technology that raises educational standards in 3D geometry.

 

Author: Milena Piasecka – manager and entrepreneur. For many years, she’s been working on digital projects in the fields of education, culture and the analysis of threats on the internet. Milena has experience with running projects with R&D components and creating video games: as a producer, a game-designer and a programmer. As a manager, she completed over 12 educational projects financed by the European Union. Additionally, she teaches children programming by using Scratch and Blockly language and tools/games such as Minecraft, mBot, CodeCombat, Lightbot, CoderDojo materials, Code.org and many more.

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